Samsung ST550 review
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Samsung ST550 review - Performance
The Samsung ST550 performs well. There are one or two niggles though - the front screen being a little temperamental to turn on until you have the knack of the ‘turn on tap'. Also, given the 27mm lens it's not necessarily always wide enough to take a self portrait of two people with your heads fully in the frame. True as it is that wide angles certainly don't purport to producing flattering portraits, so anything wider would admittedly over-enhance facial features, but an extra few mm - say a 24mm - would be great for general use when shooting other subjects too. The 4.6x zoom, equating to 124mm at its longest end, whilst mostly sufficient also feels a little lacking - a wider angle and longer zoom would really set the ST550's feature set apart from the crowd, especially with the clever dual screen system. Furthermore the battery life is very poor and has to be charged in camera via the shortest charge cable I've ever seen bundled with a camera. Rather cleverly, on the other hand, is the fact that you can plug directly into the wall or instead to your computer via USB to charge.
The ST550 has an excellent macro mode which works very closely to subject, and the Smart Auto is deft at detecting when it should or shouldn't be activated. In fact the auto modes are mostly accurate throughout, only leaving the lack of more manual controls or focus at bay. More advanced users may desire modes such as this, but then that would be to miss the point - the Samsung ST550 is meant to be a stylish point-and-shoot compact. And with that in mind, and including the abundance of facial recognition modes, it's hit the nail squarely on the head for certain. Smile and blink detection compliment face detection, or ‘my star' allows you to store your favourite people's faces where the ST550 will then automatically recognise them in the future. Scene modes add ‘beauty shot' which mildly softens larger skin areas of the face to give a more flattering portrait.
Auto focus steps up a notch too by adding yet more sophisticated modes such as Subject Tracking Mode to allow a physical click of your subject on screen to then be followed around frame for ideal focus. Most clever. Auto focus for the most part is good, with centre AF, multi AF and One Click Shot also available. The only slight issue is an ever so slight processing time where the screen blacks out upon taking a shot, which makes you feels somewhat disengaged from the shooting process.
The front LCD has a few extra bonuses too, such as ‘children mode' which shows an animated display to keep young children's otherwise easily distracted minds focus face-on to camera. And to prevent things getting stale, Samsung even hosts additional animations online which can be downloaded for free. There is also an HD video mode capable of capturing 720p (1280x720) at 30 frames per second with mono sound, however it's not possible to utilise the front LCD in this mode.
For those looking for a more creative edge, there are numerous in-camera colour modes too. From more traditional ‘black and white' options to fun ‘retro' mode, there's all sorts of ways to manipulate your images when shooting, without the need for software. Utilising these modes does disable any face detection or sharpness/contrast adjustment (the latter available only in Program mode).
Samsung ST550 review - Image Quality
The Samsung ST550 produces good images, though as you begin to utilise the higher ISO settings this quickly deteriorates to much softer images. It would seem that, from above around ISO 200, the noise reduction employed is perhaps a little excessive as it really douses out a lot of detail. In saying that however, it's fairly typical of small-sensored compact cameras to struggle with high ISO images, but in good light or with flash this isn't going to cause an issue whatsoever.Samsung ST550 review ISO / image noise test - click for full size gallery
The ST550 lens quality is reasonable, and there's no fringing or chromatic aberration to be seen, though the mildly ‘fuzzy' appearance of many images at 100% will limit their use for pin-sharp large prints; it's more the detail and sharpness which lacks - partly down to the lens, partly the in-camera processing. Colour is rich and realistic, tones are a good neutral and there are enough in-camera modes to correct all this to your liking should you so wish.
Samsung ST550 review - Value For Money
It's not two screens for the price of one, nor should it be. At around £260 the ST550 isn't a cheap compact by any means. But with other quality compacts on the market, such as the Panasonic FX550, at similar price points, it's a fair price for a sturdy feature set and all-round decent camera.